And then there were two at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship. Kevin Kisner and Matt Kuchar claimed victories in their semifinal matches, both grinding it out in chilly, raw conditions on Sunday morning to set up an all-American 18-hole final in the afternoon at Austin Country Club.
Kisner took down arguably the hottest golfer all week in the Lone Star State, beating Italy’s Francesco Molinari, 1 up, to get a chance to return to the Match Play finals for a second straight year and avenge his lopsided 7-and-6 loss to Bubba Watson from 2018.
Kisner and Molinari traded 1-up leads on the front nine, and were tied through 11 holes, each making three birdies along the way. But on the par-5 12th hole, Molinari stumbled when he hit his third shot from 30 yards through the green and into the water left, allowing Kisner to win the hole with a conceded birdie. Kisner then went 2 up when he won the par-4 14th with a par.
Yet Molinari, who has elevated his game in the last year with five worldwide wins, including his Open Championship triumph, wasn’t done, tying the match again by winning the 16th and 17th holes with birdies. It was what you might expect from a player who had won all five matches he’d played previously this week after going 5-0 in match play last September in Europe’s romp over the Americans at the Ryder Cup outside Paris.
On the par-4 18th hole, Molinari hit his drive into a fairway bunker but managed to leave himself a 25-foot birdie try after hitting his approach—only to race that putt nearly 10 feet by the hole. Kisner, who hit his approach shot to 13 feet, just missed his birdie try and had his par putt conceded. Molinari had to make his par to extend the match, but tugged it left, allowing Kisner to become the first back-to-back finalist since Hunter Mahan in 2012 and 2013.
Kisner said he was approaching this year from a different perspective. “Probably [with] a little less tension to how big a deal it is,” Kisner said. “I’m just going to play my game and see how what I can do. I didn’t play great on the back nine, and neither did [Molinari], and I was fortunate to come out on top. I need to clean that up for the finals to win the trophy.”
To do just that, he’ll have to beat a former WGC-Match Play champion in Kuchar, who defeated Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard, 1 up, in their semifinal tilt.
Kuchar, who won this event in 2013, never trailed against Bjerregaard, who had surprised many when he defeated Tiger Woods in the quarterfinals the previous day to advance to Sunday’s play. But Kuchar also never held more than a 1-up lead throughout the match and wasn’t playing as solidly as he have liked.
Kuchar took the lead for good on the par-5 16th when he hit the green in two and then two-putted from 20 feet to win with a birdie. He birdied the 17th from 12 feet, only to see Bjerrregaard make a 10-footer to extend the match to the 18th, before the pair halved the hole with pars.
“I feel like this was NCAA tournament, this was survive and advance,” said Kuchar, who now has 28 wins during his career at the WGC-Match Play, third most behind Woods and Ian Poulter. “It was not great golf. Certainly those last couple holes for me, to hit that shot I did on 16, to birdie 17, I finally felt like I need to make a move, I’ve got to do something. At first it was just try to plod along, I didn’t have my best stuff.”
Both players, of course, hope to step up their games in the afternoon, with the winner claiming a $1.745 million pay day. If Kuchar takes the title, the 40-year-old will become the oldest player to ever win the WGC-Dell Match play title.